I am writing my second book, which is quite a departure from the first, and have begun thinking about how I might categorise this novel when it comes to my NWS submission, at some point over the next four months.  Okay, so I know I am getting ahead of myself here, the thing is only one third written, but at this rate the genre description might match the total word count of the book itself!  As far as I can work out it is a:

  • Young adult
  • Time slip
  • Fantasy
  • Romance
  • Suspense
  • Supernatural novel
  • With elements of magic

I am not sure about the supernatural bit, if I am honest, perhaps it’s paranormal instead?  I just don’t know…  What is the difference and how much does it really matter?  To me, the answer is “not that much” but, like all labels, genres can be quite emotive tags.

When I started pursuing this journey to publication more seriously, I thought I enjoyed reading and writing Chick Lit best of all.  As far as I was concerned that meant feel good, escapist, contemporary romance, with a guaranteed happy ending thrown in for good measure.

Then I discovered that mentioning the phrase ‘Chick Lit’ was tantamount to referring to the Scottish play by its real name.  If I was serious about publication, and was going to call my work Chick Lit, it was as fool-hardy as rushing into a theatre on the opening night of a Shakespeare production and shouting the word Macbeth at the top of my voice, as well as wishing the cast good luck – instead of telling them all to “break a leg”.

Apparently, I absolutely have to ensure that I never utter the CL phrase and always refer to my first novel as a Rom Com.  But why?  It doesn’t change what it is, any more than it changes the books in this genre written by some of my favourite authors, who were still my favourite authors back when they wrote Chick Lit…

Confused? I know I am!  We’re also told these days to ensure that we write deeper themes and I’m all for that.  In my early forties, I certainly know that life is about more than bagging a man and my next adult novel, which will still be a Rom Com (or CL if you dare), tackles Alzheimer’s as one of its themes.  Yet isn’t there still a place for the frothiest of light heartedly Chick Lit out there, it people want to read it?  Or is the genre really dead, just because someone, somewhere, says it is?

So today I’m rebelling and, like those who refuse to label their sexuality or gender, I’m asking if labelling our genre is just as subjective?  Of course, I’m sure I’ll back down by the time the submission deadline rolls around and I’ll also be rocking my lucky pants then – just in case!

Jo x


10 thoughts on “Genre-lisations

  1. Hi Jo, I like to think a good novel is a good novel, no matter what genre it is. I hope that means when one style of book is out of fashion, if it’s worth reading it’ll get taken up anyway.

    I also love the way books are now covering deeper subjects, I think that as a society in the last hundred years or so we made leaps and bounds in understanding physical health, now we’re starting to learn about emotional health too and fiction is a great way to do that because it carries emotion much better than any scientific tract and is accessible to all, not just an academic few!

    I’ve gone write off the topic cos I got all excited about reading a book with Alzheimers in it, or any deep theme, I’m sure there’s room for the lot. I love deep emotional stuff but not all the time, I love plenty of change!

    I’m looking forward to reading yours Jo, so come on! Back to the grindstone! Lynne x

    • Hi Lynne

      I think you are right that a good book can become more than any genre that people try to pigeon hole it in. The ideas for my next adult novel are bursting out of my head and I can’t wait to start writing. However, I know that I have to finish the YA novel first, as that’s been impatiently waiting to be written for over ten years now, I’m hoping I’ll get the Alzheimer’s angle right, it what is essentially a Rom-Com, but if you fancy being a critiquing partner when the time comes, you could be the first to find out!

      Jo x

      • I’d love to be a critique partner! I’m not sure how good I am, but I can get better and do know about Alzheimers (spelling it’s a different story!) I too like stories with happy endings, except I was thinking about watching The English Patient again, a film I love, and that doesn’t have a happy ending, but I suppose it has a meaty, satisfying plot and there are a few people who survive and I guess who are richer emotionally because of the story.
        I’ve been trying to move my writing style to that lovely, rich, buttery emotional style of the ‘Call the Midwife’ author or Susan Lewis. Reading my latest to prepare for the NWS I can see where I’ve tried but it looks a bit patchy, an improvement on a few weeks ago though. Sometimes I think writing style is best allowed to grow naturally, sometimes I think you can push it in one direction, after all, I once grappled with how to write formal social work stuff, Court reports and similar and I got the hang of that in the end.
        Lynne x

  2. Jo, your post struck a chord with me, actually less of a chord, more an almighty crash of cymbals! I find genre most confusing. Even the ‘advice’ put out there by the published greats contradicts itself and if they can’t agree, what chance have we got? It seems easy enough if you’re Harlequin-bound or write historicals or crime but anything else cuts across the categories like mad, as you’ve found out.

    I think that what we need to do for submission or promotion purposes is make a decision on the main genre and leave it at that. Any other genres we think may apply are actually sub-genres. Does that make sense?

    I do think the term chicklit has had its day and perhaps it’s our duty to help it on its way out. I’ve read that several well-known authors whose books were branded as chicklit, and the name has stuck, actually don’t like it, understandably. Who calls women chicks anyway? Nothing so derogratory would pass muster now, and quite right too. (That’s me feminist side taken care of!)

    I agree with Lynne that a good novel is a good novel but the sad truth is that sending out a novel with no label is like sending off a parcel with no address and hoping it will get there.

    Your new book sounds great, Jo, whatever you decide it is! Enjoy, cos that’s the main thing isn’t it!


  3. Hi Jo,
    Thanks for an excellent post. I can totally relate to your genre confusion. I still don’t know what to call my book. Most of the time I’m sure it’s a supernatural romance with plenty of magic (but no vampires!) but then I have days when I’m entirely focused on the magical side of it and I feel like I’m writing fantasy. Like you I’m going to have to make a decision as to which genre I think it belongs to before submission day.
    I’m totally with you on the whole supernatural/paranormal question. I wonder if it’s a US (paranormal) versus UK (supernatural) thing but that’s really only a guess.
    Your new book sounds brilliant. Good on you for tackling such a challenging subject!

    • Hi Deidre

      A good point! I think, as you say, that picking the main genre is the key and any sub-genre might not be so important. Now I just need to pin down what that main genre is… Does that make it YA in my case or fantasy? Might just have to play a game of eenie, meanie, miney, mo when the time comes!

      Jo x

    • Hi Alex

      Ooh, I think your post has helped me to clarify that I should be focusing on the fantasy as opposed to the supernatural, but then again I do have severed heads that can come back to life… but, like you, no vampires!

      We’ll definitely have to read each other’s novels when they are ready (if you don’t mind a YA?) and help each other decide how they might be categorised. Can’t wait to get it finished now that I am almost at the half way point, as it’s been in my head for over ten years. Then I will get started on the next adult book that has the Alzheimer’s theme, which I hope I can stil do justice whilst retaining some humour. We went through it with my Nan and there are some really funny things that happened, which I will include in the book, sometimes at the worst of times you just have to laugh to stay sane.

      Do let us all know when your book is ready and if/when you would like a critiquing partner. I can’t wait to read it, as it sounds so mysterious – right down to its setting.

      Jo x

  4. Oooh, I’ve never read a YA timeslip fantasy romance suspense supernatural novel with elements of magic in it before … but I can’t wait to have a read!!!

    As you know, I’m with you on the whole “chick-lit” thing. I personally don’t find it derogatory although I can see the rationale for people who do. I just think of it as the written version of the “chick-flick” which I never found offensive; just saw as a good rhyming play on words. However, I bow to pressure and have referred to my novel as romcom instead as I don’t want to add an extra unnecessary fight in the battle to be published!

    I do like a good weepie but I don’t think I’ll ever go off the traditional style chick-lit/romcom. I like the escapism and the fact I know that there’s a happy ending. I also do most of my reading on the commute to work by bus. I don’t want to arrive at work with smudges of mascara, feeling emotionally drained. For that reason, Jojo Moyes’s ‘Me Before You’ has remained on my reading pile and I added a Jill Mansell to my bag last night now that my Kindle downloads have all been read. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Jill’s books or Sophie Kinsella’s or any in that ilk. I think there’s a place for the more serious issues … but there’s also a place for this and I’ll brandish my kettle bells at anyone who says otherwise!!!


    • Hi Julie

      That made me laugh, as you always do, I think you were born to write Rom Coms! Yes, we have to play the game and, yes, as Deirdre says, I wouldn’t want someone to call me a chick in person… Then again, it does sound like the type of name someone might call a young, attractive woman, so perhaps at my age and state of disrepair I wouldn’t mind after all!

      That said I just want to write and so I am not going to get too hung up on the genres at this stage. I think it has been liberating to hop from adult to YA for a start, so for now I will just enjoy writing what I want to write (and what I would like to read) and decide what to term it later. On that note, I am going to post something about your latest short story over in the virtual writing group, as I think you too should tackle a YA next!

      Jo xx

  5. “It’s just ‘Chick lit'” is something I hate to see and it’s often written in a derogative way on Amazon reviews. I think it started out as “shopping and sex” books but now people like to give any romantic novel such a title if it’s at all ‘girlie’ and they want to belittle the theme of the novel. Makes me mad it does!

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